Polychromos pencils

Veronica Winters takes Polychromos pencils through their paces on a variety of surfaces and offers a host of tips and techniques for using them.

Everything you need from coloured pencils

When it comes to coloured pencils, only five things matter: softness, saturation, durability, lightfastness and price.

Made in Germany, Faber-Castell Polychromos coloured pencils offer excellent saturation and durability. A vast majority of them are lightfast, which means resistance to fading in 100 or more years under museum conditions.

Polychromos pencils are also competitively priced among the professional group of coloured pencils, however they are not the softest ones for one reason – you can achieve maximum detail with a strong lead that’s not too soft.

Their main advantage is extreme detail you can get using them. Constant sharpening is key. Don’t try to draw the details with a dull coloured pencil point. Sharpen them often to make strong outlines, definite edges and dark tones.

Eye with Polychromos pencils

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Top features of Polychromos coloured pencils:

  • Competitively priced
  • Strong leads for maximum detail
  • No bloom
  • More water-resistant than other brands
  • Break-resistant leads
  • Sturdy and easy to hold
  • 120 colours available, most with the highest lightfastness rating

Where to buy

Order your Polychromos coloured pencils from Art Supplies with Painters Online by



  • Individual pencils start from just £2.24
  • Sets of 12, 24 or 36 can be purchased starting at £25.99 for a set of 12

Top surfaces for Polychromos

Coloured pencil drawing

Polychromos pencils are best used on Bristol Vellum paper and art boards, Canson Colorline papers, UArt 800 grit pastel paper, and Pastelmat paper.

We all have our preferences but working on Bristol Smooth paper can be frustrating for someone with little experience. Polychromos pencils glide off of this paper and thus shading is limited to very few layers of colour.

Layering and blending

Coloured pencil drawings

It can be frustrating filling in large backgrounds or spaces when drawing on large paper using oil-based lead. I therefore normally use the softest coloured pencils for this task then switch to Polychromos to work on smaller shapes and details when the first layer is filled in (which is not the case working on pastel papers).

Working on extreme detail is where these coloured pencils shine. It’s possible to produce highly detailed drawings with maximum precision and colour saturation that’s impossible to do with other brands of coloured pencils.

Note, because they are not super soft, I don’t use white or off-white colours very often to place the strongest highlights. And when used on the correct paper, they blend easily via tight shading and don’t need additional blending methods.

Characteristics of Polychromos pencils

Polychromos pencils

Wax bloom is a common problem among coloured pencil artists who use very soft coloured pencils, especially if that pencil is black. Wax bloom is a soft, white haze that appears over your drawing when a lot of black pigment is used. Polychromos pencils simply don’t bloom.

They are also more water-resistant than other brands of coloured pencils. It doesn’t mean that you can submerge your art in water, because paper is not water-resistant. However, highly pigmented surface looks and feels quite different from generic coloured pencils.

Polychromos have break-resistant leads and don’t usually break inside when dropped on the floor by accident. They never break when sharpened (unlike so many other coloured pencil brands. They are easy to hold, feel sturdy in a hand, and have a nice round 3.8mm diameter oil-based lead.

The colours

polychromos pencil

Polychromos come in a great variety of hues with a 120 colour range.

They sell in boxed sets of 12, 24, 36, 60 & 120, and a tin box of either 36 or 60 is an excellent choice to own for any coloured pencil artist.

Sold as open stock, you can order any colour individually, which is great to have full control over the lightfastness and colored pencil hue choices. As we all have different preferences and goals, we use more or less of a particular colour; being able to buy them individually gives me flexibility I need creating vibrant art.

Most colours have the highest lightfastness rating; there are very few that are not. They will resist fading for over 100 years. The company has three ratings: one star means ‘reasonable lightfastness’; two stars is ‘high lightfastness’; and three stars is ‘maximum lightfastness’.

This star rating is in reverse to some other popular brands of coloured pencils. Some brands produce pinks, blues and lilacs that fade quickly; Polychromos has a wide range of colours with high-lightfastness rating.


Understanding the different surfaces for using Polychromos coloured pencils

1. Bristol Vellum

Bristol Vellum surface is the best surface for coloured pencil drawing in general. Polychromos work great on this type of paper because it’s neither smooth nor textured. When shading is done with a very sharp pencil and medium to heavy pencil pressure, shading looks even and saturated. Thus the surface doesn’t need any additional blending. Blending happens naturally by overlapping and adjusting pencil pressure using Polychromos.

2. Strathmore Illustration art boards

Rigid and large, Strathmore Illustration art boards and Canson art boards have a very similar Bristol vellum surface and thus work the same way.

3. Canson Colorline paper

Canson Colorline paper has a wide range of colours with a nice surface to work on in coloured pencil. I like to use Polychromos to fill in smaller shapes and define the details working on this paper. Colours look super vibrant.

4. UArt 800 grit paper

Working on this surface takes some getting used to because the surface is similar to the sand paper. Although 800 grit is the finest grit recommended for coloured pencil drawing, it’s still on a rough side. UArt paper ‘eats’ up the coloured pencils, because the sanded surface has a lot of texture.

Oil-based Polychromos are like soft pastels. They’re quite hard, so they last much longer shading on UArt paper.

The working process is also different. Because this paper is designed for pastels, the coloured pencil shading technique should be close to pastel painting technique. Draw from dark to light, and shade with dark pencils first. Fix the layer then continue shading with lighter colours over it. You’ll see the effect it’s producing; the vibrant colours look so different from regular coloured pencil drawing on white paper.

If you use solvents and after the paper dries, it’s much easier to continue coloured pencil shading. However, if you have small details, like eyes or finger nails, it needs precision and patience to fill those details well. I use Polychromos coloured pencils for shading the details. Also, learn to determine the scale of your art. Draw larger in coloured pencil if you can’t get the details right.

5. Pastelmat

Working on pastelmat paper is similar to UArt; both are designed for drawing with soft pastels and mixed media. Polychromos behave like soft pastels in a pencil form when shading on pastel paper.



If you’re on a budget, buy your pencils individually to run your tests and see how highly pigmented, durable and versatile they are, then invest in a box and let your creativity flow.

You will enjoy your Zen of meditative shading for months, if not years, to come.

To see how Donna Terry uses a combination of Polychromos coloured pencils and Caran d'Ache pastel pencils to draw a cat's eye


About Veronica Winters

Veronica is a Russian-American artist.

Visit her website www.veronicasart.com to see new art, video courses and tutorials or say hello on her Instagram @veronicawintersart or YouTube @VeronicasArt.

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